Tuesday, June 29, 2010
For the last few months, I've been on the trail of my husband's ancestor, his 4th great grandfather, Samuel Palmes, who fought in the American Revolution at the tender age of 21. I had a little information about him and knew where he was buried; Warner Cemetery in East Haddam, CT. I thought Samuel would end up where he was - a name on a website. I was fortunate enough to make a trip to New England two weeks ago, and struck, for lack of a better term, ancestral paydirt.
The journey from finding a name on Ancestry.com to physically standing in front of the actual headstone was an adventure in itself. When we reached East Haddam (hubby and I, with our 2 young children, drove from Florida to Boston in 2 days), we couldn't find the cemetery. It's not listed on Mapquest! Right on cue, as if we were in a movie, an elderly gentleman came out of the nearby church and asked if he could help us "find someone." At first, I thought he had come outside because my kids were running around the cemetery like loonies. I told him we were looking for Grandpa at Warner Cemetery, and he proceeded to take us there.
To reach Warner Cemetery, you have to drive through winding, scenic roads along a craggy hillside with fantastic views of the Connecticut River. We parked at a house that was built in the early 1700s and walked into the backyard. Beyond an overgrown field next to a horse pasture, was a wooded area surrounded by an ancient stone wall. The cemetery.
It was pretty small and exclusive - the Warner family had owned it and only relatives and close friends were buried there. With only about 40 or so graves to search, it wasn't difficult to find Samuel, along with several other Revolutionary soldiers. The American Legion had recently placed an American flag on his grave, which was in good shape. He died at 91 years of age, and his wife and her brother were buried beside him. Finding the grave would have been satisfaction enough, but then Karl (our guide, who turned out to be the town historian) took us to the Victorian-era library's genealogy room. He brought out several books that listed our Samuel as well as his illustrious great-grandfather, Edward, who'd come to America on a commission from King Charles II. The most exciting discovery was a handwritten book finished in 1912, written by Samuel's grand-nephew. That writer even mentioned my husband's grandfather by name (he was born in 1896 and was a teenager at the time the book was compiled).
Before this trip, all we'd known about Samuel was that he'd fought in the war and had a twin brother. Afterwards, we discovered many things. We found descriptions of their military service, of their hardships and how they missed home. Samuel's twin, Andrew, served out the war imprisoned on a British warship and made a daring escape to Cuba (he succeeded and fathered 11 children and lived to be 94). We saw facsimiles of Edward's and Samuel's signatures and seals, and Karl even knew where Samuel's tannery had been located. We saw "refugee lists" of patriots who'd fled Long Island for Connecticut when their lands and farms were confiscated. One of those refugees was Sarah Foster, Samuel's wife, who'd boarded a boat as a little girl, leaving her home behind.
As my fellow writers (and probably dear readers) may well imagine, the plotting wheels in my head were spinning out of control. My muse scrambled for paper and pen, all the while shrieking in my ear, "write, you fool, write!" The town of East Haddam is small and quaint, with many original buildings dating from pre-Revolution days, and fields, streams, and woods intact. I imagined I was walking through the same fields and looking upon the same scenic vistas as Samuel might have, two hundred and fifty years before.
Not only was this vacation more enjoyable than I'd hoped it would be, but it gave our kids an opportunity to "touch" the past. They cleared leaves and old branches from the grave and traced the letters of his name. They found a few rocks and pinecones to bring all the way back to Florida. They looked at the flag on his grave and read the words "Revolutionary War Soldier." An era they've only seen in books and movies was alive for them. Across the enormous span of time, they were introduced to a grandfather they could never know, but now will never forget.
And, yes, to keep my muse happy, I am starting to ponder the story of a young patriotic sailor, sneaking overboard a mighty warship with his fellows; dreams of home foremost in his thoughts. And did I mention that Edward, who became one of the wealthiest men in Connecticut at the time, fell in love with the Governor's daughter? Hmmm....
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The first time I ever tried to write a novel, I wrote about a Scottish lass who's mother was kidnapped. The kidnapper, of course, was a strapping Scottish kilt-wearing hunk who was forced to commit the kidnapping in order to pay a debt. Needless to say, this story hasn't seen the light of day in quite some time.
The second story I completed was a vampire tale - again, sucked. My third story was an erotic contemporary piece that became my first published work.
It wasn't until after my fourth story - which was a medieval historical - that I realized I was dabbling too much. I was writing good, but my heart just wasn't fully into the characters and plot lines I was creating. I needed to find a niche - the genre that I could relate to and feel passionate about.
Have you ever had that happen? For some time, I almost felt lost. Like I had lost my best friend or moved away to a new town where I knew no one. It's like trying to decide what path to take in life - which door to open - but not knowing exactly what the name of the paths were.
Then one day I was researching and stumbled across a link for Historical Towns of Texas. Immediately I became hooked on the information available for the late nineteenth century - the hardships of the west, the trials of women and what it took to raise a family, the struggles of men and desire to expand their horizons. It was amazing! I consumed so much information and bought so many research books - (sshh..don't tell the hubby).
The time period hooked me quickly. I love the tales of outlaws, sheriffs, the cowboys who sweep our ignorant Eastern heroine off her feet and the land that captures our hearts. Thus far, I have written three historical western romances - two published with The Wild Rose Press and one just about done.
I know someday I may write in another genre. There's nothing to say that I can't. But right now, my heart is in those western historicals and I'll continue writing them until it becomes time to move on again.
What genre interests you most? Why? I'd love to hear your answers and one lucky commentor will win a copy of my e-book "Lover's Bargain" - of course, a western romance published by The Wild Rose Press!!
Thanks for stopping by!
Friday, June 18, 2010
Saturday, June 12, 2010
The Olivas Adobe is a great way to “visit” Southern California’s Rancho Period first-hand. Not far from my home, this prime example of adobe (dried clay brick) architecture is unique with its two-story structure. Don Raymundo Olivas added an unusual second floor during the rancho’s hey-day in the late 1840’s, and the house has been restored to its original stature.
Don Raymundo was born poor in 1809 in the tiny pueblo that grew into today’s Los Angeles and joined the Mexican Army in California at 16. As a Lancer (cavalryman), he was assigned to the Presidio (fort) at Santa Barbara, about two hours north of L.A.
It was here in Santa Barbara that Raymundo met Teodora Lopez and married her in November 1832. In gratitude for his loyalty and service, Mexican Governor Juan B. Alvarado granted Raymundo and a friend 4,670 acres of land in today’s Ventura County. Raymundo began ranching this land while Teodora began bearing children. 21 total, eight girls and 13 boys.
When gold was discovered along the American River about four hundred miles north, Raymundo found his own "gold mine" and made a fortune supplying those Forty-Niner miners with beef as well as hides.
These were the golden years for the adobe, with its remodeling and additions and glorious parties. Raymundo’s family prospered until drought in the 1860’s destroyed the cattle empires. He survived by raising sheep.
His death in 1879 was the beginning of the end for the Olivas' fortune, and the adobe house was sold in 1899. Some of the ranchland has become a municipal golf course, some strawberry fields, some subdivisions. After passing through many owners, the adobe itself was purchased by Max Fleischmann, of the yeast empire, who restored the building in 1927. Upon his death, the adobe was given to the City of Ventura, and it opened as a museum in July, 1972. Docent-led tours are frequent.
We local folks enjoy the “Cowboys, Heroes and Outlaws: Passport to the American West” coming up next Saturday, with Western reenactors in full regalia as well as pioneer crafts for the kids.
In fact, many fourth-grade schoolchildren take field trips to the adobe for a hands-on two-hour program that brings to life the Rancho Period of California History.
And at Christmas, you can enjoy a holiday candlelight tour that showcases the tradition of Las Posada, where Mary and Joseph seek room at the inn.
It’s a great place to visit. Ya’ll come on down, ya hear?
P.S. It's not a historical, but I can't resist mentioning my latest Western, a contemporay and inspirational, released last week at White Rose Publishing, TWRP's adjunct inspirational line.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
In the old days, marriages were usually arranged by the parents in the Sioux society. The formal request for a bride was made by presenting gifts (the bride price - usually food, blankets, and fine clothing, and later horses) to the bride's parents, who made the decision to accept or reject the marriage proposal for the girl.
Most marriages were arranged this way, although there may have been a few romantic marriages instigated by the young people.
In Sioux culture it was usually the fathers who negotiated the marriage, looking for like minded political alliances, or a social tie that would strengthen the stature of the bride's family in the community, or an accomplished hunter or warrior who would be an asset in providing for and protecting the whole extended family.
While Sioux fathers took the lead and had the final say in such matters, mothers did the steering, and heavily influenced the stance taken by the fathers. Often the father would consider the wishes of a favored daughter, but this wasn't always the case.
If gifts were accepted and the father approved, the girl would have no say in the matter, even if she was opposed to the marriage.
Sioux girls were taught that chastity before marriage was such a virtue, that even an implied loss of it would prevent them from being worthy of praying to the Great Spirit. This was so ingrained into their culture and belief system that they would not even look directly at a member of the opposite sex that was not a family member, and they were given few opportunities to be alone with potential suitors. A good Sioux daughter would never let herself get into such a predicament.
Sioux girls usually married shortly after having their puberty rites, which were held when they reached menses, but males were expected to participate in at least one or more successful war parties or horse raids to prove their valor and courage before they were considered worthy of a wife, so the average Sioux groom was usually quite a bit older, sometimes by as much as 20 years or more.
Older women might also be acquired as wives when a spouse was killed. The brother of the deceased was expected to marry his brother's widow. Occasionally, a divorced person would remarry, but this was rare because it wasn't socially acceptable. Divorce was accepted, but divorced people were expected to remain single for the rest of their lives. Those who did remarry were often ostracized from their band.
Because there were more women than men due to casualties of war and hunting accidents, most Sioux men had two or more wives. Often a man married sisters. This family tie helped to keep bickering and jealousy among the wives to a minimum. A man could have as many wives as he could afford to care for, and more wives meant less work for the women.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Why do I love reading and writing historical romance? The answer is really quite simple. Historical romances transport me to another time and place and immerse me in a love story. Before I started writing historical romance, I never considered the skillful balance between facts and emotion in these stories, the delicate weave of details within a love story that creates a sense of time and place and brings the plot and the characters to life. Now, as a writer of historical romance, I know firsthand the challenge of blending facts into a story without creating information overload.
While the developing emotional relationship between the heroine and her hero is the central focus of historical romance, historical details serve to sweep the reader away to another time and place. Infusing facts throughout the story without sounding like a travel guide is a writer’s challenge. Research, layering details through multiple revisions, and a willingness to cut facts that don’t enhance the story are my keys to achieving balance between historical detail, story flow, and emotional intensity.
Of course, thorough research is a given. Historical inaccuracies pull a reader out of a story, while details about historical events, clothing, food, transportation, communication, occupations, and social structure – the list could go on and on - provide scaffolding for a believable story.
After I become familiar with the essential characteristics of an era, I map out the plot and research specific aspects of the time period that may factor into the story. Historical details woven throughout the story create a sense of time and place. What weapons were available? What historical events and historical figures might have impacted the characters’ lives? What literary and artistic works were prominent during that era? In my new release, Destiny, the heroine’s love of tragic romances factors into the plot. Research to identify popular authors of the heroine’s time provided details that fleshed out the character’s actions and dialogue.
I’ve learned to watch for detail overload. Long, dragging descriptions and an overuse of period details bog down the story. If I note my Civil War-era heroine’s fondness for a bolero-like garment known as a Zouave jacket, I’ll avoid an abundance of period terms to describe the other garments in the scene. Action scenes call for selective use of detail. A character fighting for his life isn’t going to think, I’ll use my Colt revolver. Likewise, references to historical figures can add to a story, but historical name-dropping can result in detail overload. Your characters shouldn’t sound like Joan Rivers on a time travel adventure.
Every author develops a method that works best for him or her. To me, research, layering details, and revision are the keys to crafting a love story that transports the reader to another time and place.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
This month I wanted to blog about a very special writer I met several years ago... Sometimes life throws a curve ball and sometimes the curve ball is followed a pitch so fast you don’t even swing until the catcher’s already caught the ball. This happened to a writer I know. Lee Scofield who was in the first round of edits for her book, Halfway to Forever, when her husband suddenly and unexpectedly passed away—only days later she suffered a severe stroke.
She could have quit at this point. Thrown in the towel, deemed it too much trouble, an insurmountable task. Not Lee Scofield. She wanted to keep going. Throughout the editing process her computer access was intermittent, and she personally struggled to overcome staggering physical challenges, regardless she persevered.
As I sit here behind my computer and sigh when my mind is blank or daily life is crashing in, when I get discouraged, when I think, this is too tough, I look over to my bookshelf where I keep Lee’s books and remember it’s only as tough as you make it.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with her. Despite having every reason to complain, she never did. She only saw how fortunate she was compared to others at her assisted living facility. She never looked at her disabilities, only her abilities.
Her book Halfway to Forever came out this month.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read her dedication without tearing up—To my own hero, Charles, who always supports me in my writing—nor will I ever be able to read her book without remembering the battle she went through to complete this. Halfway to Forever is truly a labor of love, filled with the heart and soul of the writer.
I’d like to add a dedication of my own, To Lee Scofield, who embodies the spirit and stamina of the true heroine, and exemplifies the love romance writers celebrate.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee."
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
that good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when the "Gales of November" came early.
-- Gordon Lightfoot, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”
When I set out to write my new novel, Passage to November, all I had to work with was a kernel of an idea: a shipwreck. I wasn’t sure where to place the shipwreck, or even who my characters were yet, but in my mind I saw sheer devastation: smashed bottles and oars coming ashore… hunks of wrecked ships… bodies frozen in the pained contortions of their last moments of life.
Yeah, there’s a good idea for a romance novel. Let’s just say I can be a little… dark… sometimes.
I started to flesh out my characters a little more, knowing that the story would take place in the early twentieth century. Originally I’d thought to set the story in Maine or Nova Scotia—anything to give me the excuse to go someplace nice for a vacation and say it was for “research.” But the more I researched the era, the clearer my setting became—and to my surprise, I ended up setting the novel right where I was born and raised: the Great Lakes. Okay, I’m from Chicago—to me, the Great Lakes pretty much encompassed the tiny little tip of Lake Michigan known as the Oak Street Beach, a clean and fun place where you can jog and play volleyball in the summer. The truth was that life on the Great Lakes was a harsh, sometimes dire existence—a world of rough men, nasty women, and at times, poverty and desperation. If I was going to write a novel that had any sort of historical veracity, I knew I was going to have to do some heavy research.
Even growing up in the largest of the lake cities, I was not aware of the dangers of sailing on the lakes, especially at certain times of the year. I’d forgotten Gordon Lightfoot’s classic song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” and the warnings of boater friends who have stated unequivocally that they would never sail the lakes again after encountering a light summer squall. Certainly I had no idea that somewhere between six and ten thousand ships found their way to the muddy bottom of the Inland Seas, or that even Herman Melville wrote of them with fearful reverence in “Moby Dick”:
“Erie, and Ontario, and Huron, and Superior, and Michigan — possess an ocean-like expansiveness, with many of the ocean's noblest traits... they are swept by Borean and dismasting blasts as direful as any that lash the salted wave; they know what shipwrecks are, for out of sight of land, however inland, they have drowned full many a midnight ship with all its shrieking crew.”
Apparently, shipwrecks were such a part of life on the lakes that sailors typically expected to experience a wreck or two during their careers: one grizzled old deckhand insisted that anyone who said they never had a shipwreck was “just too damn drunk to remember.” (More on the character of lake sailors next month.)
Storms can crop up at any time on the Lakes, but there is something that happens in the autumn, something so terrifying that even the most seasoned sailors grow quiet and pale in remembrance of them. The garden-variety gale, frightful enough on its own, pushes cold Canadian air over waters still warm from the summer and produces winds and seas so tremendous as to rival any hurricane on the salt seas. But every now and then, that gale turns into a monster. Lake sailors called it “The Witch.”
In early November 1913, the year in which my novel is set, a storm of unprecedented violence swept the Great Lakes. What started as a tiny puff of cold air over the northern Rockies swept southeast, to Lake Superior first, where it fed off the warm lake water and blew into what most of the sailors at first believed was the usual fall storm, something that would kick up a fuss and then blow itself out in a few hours.
There was no such thing as radar in those days, and although the Titanic tragedy of the previous year had brought sweeping changes to the maritime industry—such as mandating telegraph equipment on all ships—the changes generally only applied to ocean-going vessels. On the Great Lakes, only the newest freighters carried communications equipment. Not that it did them much good, once the telegraph lines went down in Cleveland and Detroit…
To make matters worse, the meteorological sciences were in their infancy: no one knew or understood the concept of the jet stream, or the ways in which it steered storms. The weather service in Washington D.C. posted weather reports every eight to twelve hours; by the time news of an impending gale reached the Lakes and the various local weather stations raised their storm pennants, it was already too late. Most lake captains, who understood that a boat in port never made anyone any money, viewed the weather service with contempt, believing the weathermen to be wrong more often than not. They knew their boats as well as they knew their wives, and they relied on their own instincts, positive that they could punch their way out of any storm. They had no idea that a warm burst of low pressure from the Gulf of Mexico was about to meet the northwesterly gale over Lake Huron and make their weekend a nightmare.
To this day, the storm is called the “White Hurricane.” Modern meteorologists call it a “weather bomb.” Sailors trapped in it called it “The Witch”—or more likely a word that rhymed with it. Cyclonic winds raged at a sustained seventy-five to ninety miles per hour for sixteen straight hours, and blew freighters filled with cargo onto rocky shorelines . Snow, thick and wet, made visibility impossible. The choppy, forty-foot waves—different from the rolling swells of the ocean—chewed even the most modern steel freighters to pieces. The SS James Carruthers, a 529-foot bulk freighter just launched in the spring of 1913 and boasting state-of-the-art technology, foundered and sank in the storm, taking all twenty-two crewmen with her. Like many other ships lost that terrible weekend in November, she has never been found.
In the end, nineteen boats went down with all hands. Twenty more were run aground or heavily damaged. Because of the relaxed standards when it came to maintaining passenger lists—and even more lax hiring procedures in those days (usually a call out in a waterfront saloon for deckhands), no one is entirely sure how many men and women perished in the storm—some reports number as high as three hundred. The city of Cleveland, once a rival to Chicago in terms of sophistication and the home port of much of the American lake fleet, was nearly destroyed. Those who survived the storm never forgot it as long as they lived. The Great Storm of 1913 became the standard by which all other gales would be measured. So far, none have been its equal.
This is where I set my story. And it’s how I came to love and appreciate the Great Lakes… and the men and women who sailed them.
Every era has its extremes of dress. The Sixties had micro-minis. The Roaring Twenties had flapper dresses. Georgian England had macaronis.
Although today most fashion is geared toward women, the macaronis were men. "Macaroni" or "maccaroni", from the Italian word, maccherone, which literally means a boorish fool, described the height, and often the extremes, of male fashion in the mid 1700's.
Brought from the continent by idle young men on their Grand Tour, macaroni dress took the standard male wardrobe of wig, coat, waistcoat, breeches, stockings and shoes to absurd lengths. The express purpose was to shock people. And shock they did. Coats were tight. Huge buttons decorated short waistcoats. Narrow, dainty shoes sported buckles almost larger than they were. And copious amounts of lace, ribbon, ruffles and whatever other outrageous decoration took the wearer's fancy trimmed the outfits, with everything in gaudy colors and showy fabrics like silks and satins.
Perhaps the most obvious feature of macaroni fashion was the wig. As in these pictures, macaroni wigs were excessively elaborate and tall, and, by contrast, crowned with a tiny hat that literally could be removed only with the point of a sword.
Macaroni clothing was never mainstream. While the fashion provided a wealth of fodder for caricatures, most people laughed it off as the blatant posturing of immature males.
The word remains in the vocabulary, although today its definition has constricted to pasta. But several vestiges of its original meaning linger to confound us.
The Macaroni Penguin, a large crested penguin native to Antarctica and the southern tip of South America, owes its name to the Georgian macaronis. English mariners in the Falkland Islands, off the coast of Chile, named the bird. With its flamboyant, colored head feathers, the penguin reminded the sailors of the macaronis back home.
And Yankee Doodle "stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni".
Next time, Yankee Doodle and macaronis.
Thank you all,
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
The plane above, the Ford 3 AT Trimotor nicknamed the "Tin Goose" because of it's corrugated metal skin, is one plane used in the early 1930s for commercial flights. In 1928 Boeing introduced its Model 80 and Ford the 5AT. The Ford could carry 13 passengers, 17 if modified. Think about this, these planes were not air conditioned with little heating so it was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Add the smell of hot oil and metal, leather seats, and disinfectant used to clean up after sick passengers. The only way to escape the smell was to open a window. What an experience--flying that high with air blowing in your face. Add to the mix air turbulence of lower altitudes (6000 feet) and you had an excellent recipe for air sickness. Though the Boeing 80 made flying more comfortable by adding forced-air ventilation and hot and cold running water, it was still impossible, even at 14,000 feet, to escape turbulence.
Early on, airlines realized they needed a means of keeping passengers comfortable and happy so they'd return again. In the late 1920s young men usually teenagers or men of small stature, were hired as stewards, cabin boys, flight companions, etc. to load luggage, reassure nervous passengers, and help travelers get around in the cramped space. The first airline to do so was Stout Airlines which later became part of United Air Lines. Pan American Airways, because of their flights over water, required first aid and extensive seamanship training for its trainees for stewards.
My heroine from the future considers flying to Reno but decides she'd rather take the train. Air travel in the 1930s didn't sound like something she wanted to try. Her barn storming experience was enough air excitement for her.
On my next posting date I'll share when the first women airline attendants were introduced.
The information for this post came from http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Commercial_Aviation/passenger_xperience/Tran2.htm
Thanks for reading,